Shastri joined the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. Deeply impressed and influenced by Mahatma Gandhi (with whom he shares his birthday), he became a loyal follower, first of Gandhi, and then of Jawaharlal Nehru. Following independence in 1947, he joined the latter’s government and became one of Prime Minister Nehru’s principal lieutenants, first as Railways Minister (1951–56), and then in a variety of other functions, including Home Minister. Shastri was chosen as Nehru’s successor owing to his adherence to Nehruvian socialism after Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi turned down Congress President K. Kamaraj’s offer of premiership.
Shastri as Prime Minister continued Nehru’s policies of non-alignment and socialism. He led the country during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. His slogan of “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” (“Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer”) became very popular during the war and is remembered even today. The war formally ended with the Tashkent Agreement of 10 January 1966; he died of a heart attack the following day, still in Tashkent.
Early years (1904–1917)
Shastri was born at the house of his maternal grandparents in Mughalsarai, Varanasi as Lal Bahadur Shrivastava, into a Hindu Kayastha family that had traditionally been employed as Highly administrators and civil servants. Shastri’s paternal ancestors had been in the service of the zamindar of Ramnagar near Varanasi and Shastri lived there for the first one year of his life. Shastri’s father, Sharada Prasad Shrivastava, was a school teacher who later became a clerk in the revenue office at Allahabad, while his mother, Ramdulari Devi, was the daughter of Munshi Hazari Lal, the headmaster and English teacher at a railway school in Mughalsarai. Shastri was the second child and eldest son of his parents; he had an elder sister, Kailashi Devi (b. 1900).
The young satyagrahi (1921–1945)
While Shastri’s family had no links to the independence movement then taking shape, among his teachers at Harish Chandra High School was an intensely patriotic and highly respected teacher named Nishkameshwar Misra, who gave Shastri much-needed financial support by allowing him to tutor his children. Inspired by Misra’s patriotism, Shastri took a deep interest in the freedom struggle, and began to study its history and the works of several of its noted personalities, including those of Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gandhi and Annie Besant. In January 1921, when Shastri was in the 10 standard and three months from sitting the final examinations, he attended a public meeting in Benares hosted by Gandhi and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Inspired by the Mahatma’s call for students to withdraw from government schools and join the non-cooperation movement, Shastri withdrew from Harish Chadra the next day and joined the local branch of the Congress Party as a volunteer, actively participating in picketing and anti-government demonstrations. He was soon arrested and jailed, but was then let off as he was still a minor.Shastri’s immediate supervisor was a former Benares Hindu University lecturer named J.B. Kripalani, who would become one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement and among Gandhi’s closest followers. Recognising the need for the younger volunteers to continue their educations, Kripalani and a friend, V.N. Sharma, had founded an informal school centered around “nationalist education” to educate the young activists in their nation’s heritage. With the support of a wealthy philanthropist and ardent Congress nationalist, Shiv Prasad Gupta, the Kashi Vidyapith was inaugurated by Gandhi in Benares as a national institution of higher education on 10 February 1921. Among the first students of the new institution, Shastri graduated with a first-class degree in philosophy and ethics from the Vidyapith in 1925. He was given the title Shastri (“scholar”). The title was a bachelor’s degree awarded by the Vidyapith, but it stuck as part of his name.
Shastri participated in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. He was imprisoned for two and a half years.Later, he worked as the Organizing Secretary of the Parliamentary Board of U.P. in 1937. In 1940, he was sent to prison for one year, for offering individual Satyagraha support to the independence movement.
Political career (1947–64)
Following India’s independence, Shastri was appointed Parliamentary Secretary in his home state, Uttar Pradesh. He became the Minister of Police and Transport under Govind Ballabh Pant’s Chief Ministership on 15 August 1947 following Rafi Ahmed Kidwai’s departure to become minister at centre. As the Transport Minister, he was the first to appoint women conductors. As the minister in charge of the Police Department, he ordered that police use jets of water instead of lathis to disperse unruly crowds. His tenure as police minister (As Home Minister was called prior to 1950) saw successful curbing of communal riots in 1947, mass migration and resettlement of refugees.
In 1951, Shastri was made the General Secretary of the All-India Congress Committee with Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister. He was directly responsible for the selection of candidates and the direction of publicity and electioneering activities. He played an important role in the landslide successes of the Congress Party in the Indian General Elections of 1952, 1957 and 1962. In 1952, he successfully contested UP Vidhansabha from Soraon North cum Phulpur West seat and won getting over 69% of vote. He was believed to be retained as home minister of UP, but in a surprise move was called to Centre as minister by Nehru.
Prime minister of India (1964–66)
Jawaharlal Nehru died in office on 27 May 1964 and left a void.Then Congress Party President K. Kamaraj was instrumental in making Shastri Prime Minister on 9 June. Shastri, though mild-mannered and soft-spoken, was a Nehruvian socialist and thus held appeal to those wishing to prevent the ascent of conservative right-winger Morarji Desai.
In his first broadcast as Prime Minister, on 11 June 1964, Shastri stated:
Jai Jawan Jai Kisan
For the outstanding slogan given by him during Indo-Pak war of 1965 Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (India) commemorated Shastriji even after 47 years of his death on his 48th martyr’s day:
Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was one of those great Indians who has left an indelible impression on our collective life. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s contribution to our public life were unique in that they were made in the closest proximity to the life of the common man in India. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri was looked upon by Indians as one of their own, one who shared their ideals, hopes and aspirations. His achievements were looked upon not as the isolated achievements of an individual but of our society collectively.
Shastri continued Nehru policy of non-alignment but also built closer relations with the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the formation of military ties between the Chinese People’s Republic and Pakistan, Shastri’s government decided to expand the defence budget of India’s armed forces.
In 1964, Shastri signed an accord with the Sri Lankan Prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike regarding the status of Indian Tamils in the then Ceylon.This agreement is also known as the Sirima-Shastri Pact or the Bandaranaike-Shastri pact.
War with Pakistan
Shastri’s greatest moment came when he led India in the 1965 Indo-Pak War.
Laying claim to half the Kutch peninsula, the Pakistani army skirmished with Indian forces in August, 1965. In his report to the Lok Sabha on the confrontation in Kutch, Shastri stated:
In the utilization of our limited resources, we have always given primacy to plans and projects for economic development. It would, therefore, be obvious for anyone who is prepared to look at things objectively that India can have no possible interest in provoking border incidents or in building up an atmosphere of strife… In these circumstances, the duty of Government is quite clear and this duty will be discharged fully and effectively… We would prefer to live in poverty for as long as necessary but we shall not allow our freedom to be subverted.
Prime Minister Shastri died in Tashkent, at 2 AM on the day after signing the Tashkent Declaration, reportedly due to a heart attack, but people allege conspiracy behind the death. He was the first Prime Minister of India to die overseas. He was eulogised as a national hero and the Vijay Ghat memorial established in his memory. Upon his death, Gulzarilal Nanda once again assumed the role of Acting Prime Minister until the Congress Parliamentary Party elected Indira Gandhi over Morarji Desai to officially succeed Shastri.
Mystery behind Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death
Shastri’s sudden death immediately after signing the Tashkent Pact with Pakistan raised many questions in the minds of Indian citizens. The Prime Minister of India going to Tashkent for a pact and never coming back has not been accepted easily by Indian citizens. His health was fit as per his personal physician, Dr. R. N. Chugh, and he had no sign of heart trouble before.
Ramachandra Guha argued that Shastri shared little in common with his predecessor Jawaharlal Nehru. While Shastri preferred peace with Pakistan, writing to a friend after the Indo-Pakistani War in 1965 that the problems between both countries should be settled amicably, he had previously displayed a knack for taking quick and decisive actions during the war. He swiftly took the advice of his commanders, and ordered a strike across the Punjab border. This was in stark contrast to Nehru who in a similar situation in 1962, had refused to call in the air force to relieve the pressure on the ground troops. At the end of the conflict, Shastri flamboyantly posed for a photograph on top of a captured US-supplied Pakistani M48 Patton tank.
Shastri was known for his honesty and humility throughout his life. He was the first person to be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, and a memorial “Vijay Ghat” was built for him in Delhi.
Several educational institutes, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (Mussorie, Uttarakhand) is after his name.
Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management was established in Delhi by the ‘Lal Bahadur Shastri Educational Trust’ in 1995 as is one of the top business schools in India.
The Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute was named after Shastri due to his role in promoting scholarly activity between India and Canada.